I had the opportunity to attend an event commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the U.S. President’s Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) at the U.S. State Department on June 18th. The luminaries present at the event were countless. Secretary of State John Kerry was joined by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, U.S Senators Mike Enzi (R-Wyo), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Johnny Isaacson, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), Namibian Minister of Health, Dr. Richard Nehabi Kamwi, Congressmen Jim McDermott (D-WA), Congressman Waxman, and countless individuals who have been working in the epidemic for years.
At the event, Secretary of State John Kerry said that PEPFAR represents the best of human spirit. He exalted the work that Ambassador Goosby, Director of the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, who recently confirmed that he will be stepping down, has done over the past several years and acknowledged a fallen hero in Michael Riggs, a tireless legislative assistant to Congresswoman Barbara Lee who recently died in Arizona. Secretary Kerry read off a number of impressive statistics—globally new HIV infections are down by nearly I/3 and due to PEPFAR funding, and the 1 millionth baby has been born HIV negative. Thirteen countries have reached the tipping point where more people living with HIV (PLHIV) are receiving treatment than becoming infected.
Secretary Kerry also spoke about how PEPFAR taught us to believe in humanity and that we can find solutions where we thought that problems were unsolvable. Having spent most of my career working in HIV, I believe this to be true. I believe that the introductions of antiretrovirals in the late 1980s brought back life where it seemed to be fading so fast. The influx of 15 billion dollars brought about by PEPFAR, which as Senator Enzi (R-Wyo) reminded us playfully was A LOT of money back in 2003, brought treatment, care, and support to an entire population that would otherwise have succumbed to the epidemic that was at the time racing across sub-Saharan Africa at an alarming pace. Senator Cardin reminded us that as a result of the work of PEPFAR, life has replaced death, hope has replaced despair, and we have created a program that represents the best of our values, a model he wishes will be replicated to accomplish other tasks at hand.
Tatu Msangi, Nursing Officer in Charge at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center in Tanzania discussed how nine years ago her daughter was born HIV negative and she was given a new-found hope to adhere to medications, pursue her dreams to become a nurse, which she completed in 2011 and begin to give back by counseling the countless HIV positive women who also strive to have babies born free of HIV through prevention of mother to child transmission programs.
It felt a bit like a reunion or the Emmy awards for HIV advocates. But mostly it felt like we were part of something bigger than all of us combined. Despite some controversy, including the prostitution pledge which was struck down on June 20th by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, I have felt enormous pride both personally and professionally of what we have been able to achieve in HIV and AIDS over the past ten years. Although we still have a long way to go, particularly among key populations, as Ambassador Goosby said, “based on what we have done so far, we know we can go the distance.” I truly believe we are at the tipping point of HIV and look forward to myself and JSI being a part of the next ten years.
Take a look at a few highlights from a decade of successful partnership between JSI and PEPFAR in a new infographic: